May 17, 2007:The House passed legislation (H.R. 1773) May 15 that establishes strict requirements for an administration pilot plan to let Mexican trucks operate inside the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the "Safe American Roads Act of 2007" would assure in-depth audits and oversight of the Department of Transportation program to allow Mexican trucks to cross into the United States. DeFazio said he wished the president would withdraw from NAFTA provisions requiring the United States to open its border to Mexican truck traffic, but that at least Congress is being assured DOT is protecting America's roadways.
The legislation was approved 411-3 under suspension rules, which require a two-thirds majority for passage. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
DOT Delayed Pilot Program
DOT in April suspended plans to move forward with a pilot program to open the border that it had earlier announced in February (84 DLR A-10, 5/3/07 ). The agency in May published a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments from interested parties on the pilot program after being sued by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other plaintiffs for not complying with public notice provisions.
H.R. 1773 limits pilot program participation to 100 Mexican motor carriers and 1,000 commercial motor vehicles. It also requires DOT to establish the pilot program through notice and comment rulemaking, describes required elements of any program, and states that the program will be terminated if DOT does not comply with any provision of the bill.
The bill would also require the DOT inspector general to issue a report to Congress prior to initiation of a pilot project and establish an independent review panel to monitor and evaluate the pilot program.
In addition, the bill would require the Mexican government to have a reciprocal program for U.S. carriers that seek to transport goods in the Mexican interior. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said in May, upon delaying implementation of the program, that the pilot program would not begin until U.S. carriers had obtained reciprocal operating authority for long-haul operations in Mexico.
Hoffa Praises Bill's Passage
Following passage, IBT President James P. Hoffa said that the bill "ensures that the American traveling public is protected. The Bush administration can no longer ignore Congress and the American people on this important safety and security issue," he said.
"The Bush administration has given us sketchy information about its plans to throw open our borders to unsafe Mexican trucks," Hoffa said. "We don't know how safety laws such as hours of service and drug testing would be enforced. This vote by the House repudiates those questionable attempts to open our borders without adequate safeguards."
May 11, 2007: “We believe there is an opportunity in this negotiating cycle to withdraw from some or all of these [Teamster pension plans] and provide benefits directly to our employees, and we’re prepared to negotiate that with the Teamsters in the coming negotiations.”
“We view the multiemployer [Teamster pension] withdrawal opportunity to be the most significant thing facing us.”
-- Robert Davidson, CEO of ABF, Interviewed on May 8, 2007 by transportation stock analysts
There you have it. The CEO is telling you that ABF would love to bust our pension plans, and take over employee pensions, in the coming round of negotiations.
There is no reason for this demand to be considered by our union or our members. We should push that off the table right from the start, and let the carriers know that we are bargaining to improve health care and pensions, not turn control over to the employers.
The best way to start would be setting a precedent in the UPS and UPS Freight negotiations: bring more brothers and sisters into our Teamster pension plans, and not split them up.
May 11, 2007: by John Gallagher in Traffic World Online --Arkansas Best Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Davidson said he's willing to take the financial hit necessary to negotiate with labor an end to its multiemployer pension fund contributions.
"We can provide the same benefits that we're providing now directly to our employees at significantly less cost than we're now paying," Davidson told Wall Street analysts at a conference sponsored by Bear Stearns in New York May 8. "That money would allow us to amortize the withdrawal liability that we would pay to the funds, and would lower our operating ratio to allow us to be even more competitive in the marketplace."
According to SEC filings, ABF estimates it would cost the company $600 to $650 million in "contingent liabilities" to withdraw from the plan, payable over a 10 to 15 year period.
Such a move, however, is likely to be a major sticking point with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The National Master Freight Agreement expires in March 2008, and both sides are gearing up for the latest round of talks.
It could also prove a sticking point with YRC Worldwide, which is also part of the NMFA.
"We probably have a little bit of difference" with YRC when it comes to the pension issue, Davidson said. "We have the capital structure to allow us to do it, so the plan is to pursue that aggressively, and hope Yellow and Roadway are on board with us for it."
YRC President Bill Zollars, who was on the same panel with Davidson, said he considers the pension issue "an investment like any other investment, and what the return on that might be. It all depends on how much we put in and what we get back for it."
Satish Jindel, a principal with SJ Consulting Group, said if the Teamsters are willing to negotiate a pension fund withdrawal as part of the contract, ABF and other union carriers would be in a better position to compete with non-union carriers.
But he pointed out that the last attempt by union carriers to seek changes in pension plans with union workers was in 1997 by UPS - which resulted in a 14-day strike.
"Ten years later, if the union is realizing they need to show flexibility to give companies the opportunity to grow and create more jobs, that would be great news. But I'm not sure what leverage (management) has other than (warning labor about) the possibility of losing more jobs to non-union carriers."Click here to see the full article in Traffic World Online.
May 9, 2007: Teamsters in the Freight Division are determined not to be ignored in the upcoming bargaining. It is time for the voices of the members and locals to be heard.
A network of freight Teamsters is forming, initiated by members of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, and will become visible in the days to come in the shops, local unions, and on the internet.
Initial plans call for a website and a series of conference calls to be held nationally and by supplemental region, to share information and arrive at a target list of critical issues for Teamsters to rally around.
Some initial issues being discussed include:
Compiling the Best Benefits and Conditions in Various Supplements. If the carriers are already living and profiting with better bidding procedures, more paid time off, or better protection against abuse of casuals in some supplements, then it can be spread nationally.
Winning Fair and Equitable Wages. Freight Teamsters have fallen far backward in the past decade. In May 1997, 10 years ago, a city driver who made $18.68 per hour makes $22.11 today. Just to have buying power equal to 1997, that driver would have to make $23.97, nearly $2 more. A UPS package car driver now makes $5 per hour more than a freight driver. It’s time for some serious improvement in wages.
The Tiered Wage Structure Should End. Experienced Teamster drivers who are hired in freight start at $16.50 per hour (75 percent of scale) and will lose at least $20,000 over the next two years. It’s time to end it.
Working Conditions Need To Improve. Dispatch procedures have broken down by playing locals against each other and through changes of operations. We must put limits on forced overtime for dock hands and local drivers. Not only will Teamsters have more time for their families, more Teamsters will be put to work.
Winning Back and Protecting Good Pensions and Health Benefits. The current UPS bargaining may set the pace here, but if it falls short of what is needed, it will be up to freight Teamsters to take the lead.
These are only starter ideas, and by no means a comprehensive program. The Freight Committee needs far more input and discussion to arrive at a program and plan to win it. Call 313 842-2600 or email letters [at] tdu.org for more info and to get involved.
We are committed to winning real gains. We are not powerless. Some 60,000 freight Teamsters now work for YRC, DHL, or ABF. These are profitable corporations, and it’s time for freight Teamsters to join hands in unity and determination to win.
May 9, 2007: My freight brothers and sisters, a call to action. It’s time to dig out those National Master Freight contract books that expire March 31, 2008…the names of the union negotiating committee members are in there, thirty-three of them plus Hoffa. Many will be back at the table this time around. If one of these guys is in your local, it’s time to get to them in union meetings with our contract demands.
The time to start is now, to make sure our issues get on the table. I guarantee you that the employers are already making their plans. Parity in supplements should be one of our demands. We have benefits and language that is better from one supplement to the other. For example, you get three personal days in the East, two in the South, and only one in the Central.
Michael P. Schaffer
Local 769, Roadway
May 9, 2007: Over the past couple years, over 200 new positions have been created at freight carriers in Georgia, thanks to Local 728. They used Article 3, Section 2 of the freight contract to turn casual workers into Teamsters with seniority, benefits and union protection. Prior to the present leadership taking office in 2005, this part of the contract was rarely enforced.
The NMFA (Article 3.2) has enforceable language requiring every terminal to provide the local union and stewards with a detailed monthly report listing the name of every single casual who worked on every shift and the name of the regular worker replaced. If no one was replaced, that shift counts as a supplemental casual, and leads to required hiring. But the union has to enforce it, or it won’t happen. In the South, and in most NMFA supplements, for every 30 supplemental shifts worked in a two-month period, one full time Teamster must be hired. Some have additional language.
Enforcement Is Key
This contract language isn’t perfect, and it should be improved in the upcoming bargaining. But it is clear, unambiguous language, so the union can use it effectively at the grievance panels. Some locals do a good job, but some don’t even bother to review the monthly reports and create more Teamster jobs. Some local officials will get a friend hired, and then give the company a pass on hiring more Teamsters.
Management sometimes serves up the excuse that they can’t find good workers to hire. The contract does not allow this loophole, so the argument has no merit. It does remind us, however, that we need to get rid of the 75 percent starting rate in freight; it will be easier to hire good drivers when they don’t have to start at $16 per hour.
Local 728 agents have had to stand their ground and do their homework to enforce this clause. Often they get a back-dated seniority date, so the member gains time in the progression, sick days and in earning vacation time.
Like any contract enforcement, when it is done regularly, it gets easier. Employers come to expect to live by the contract they signed.
If your Local Union is not enforcing the freight contract requirement on hiring casuals, it’s time to start. It will put more Teamsters to work and strengthen our hand in the upcoming bargaining.
The Transportation Department bowed to congressional pressure Monday and said it would allow more public scrutiny of a proposed demonstration project that would permit Mexican-based trucking companies to operate throughout the United States.
April 24, 2007: Public Citizen joined environmental and labor groups late Monday in suing the federal government to challenge an illegal pilot program that will authorize up to 100 trucking companies based in Mexico to perform long-haul operations within the United States. The groups contend that the project violates federal requirements that the public receive notice and time to comment, and that it would have significant environmental and public safety repercussions.
April 2, 2007: Mexican truckers may not be running U.S. highways in greater numbers any time soon. Funding for the Department of Transportation pilot program that would monitor this traffic was delayed by a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The IBT claimed victory after a major lobbying effort to scuttle the program.
The Bush administration decision to open up limited cross-border truck traffic raised concerns over drivers with lesser qualifications and potentially unsafe equipment, and the possibility of lowering the wage level in the United States. Teamsters should be concerned, especially about the long-term implications.
Short-Term and Long-Term Issues
First, this is primarily about U.S. corporations opening up shop in Mexico. In fact, Mexican truck companies are skeptical of the border opening, because they see U.S. truckload companies, such as Celadon, opening up south of the border to run cross-border freight into the U.S. Some U.S. companies already have 49 percent ownership in Mexican fleets.
Second, this is, at least for now, about truckload freight—highly nonunionized and something the IBT gave up on decades ago. Truckload drivers are already a highly exploited group.
Third, this opening only applies to international freight. Once delivery is made in the U.S., the Mexican-domiciled driver cannot pick up and deliver within the U.S. Analysts expect, at least in the short term, traffic will be near the border, such as to Dallas and Phoenix.
Analysts assert most current Mexican fleets are not ready to meet U.S. safety and environmental standards. The watchdog organization Public Citizen filed suit in early March on safety grounds.
So who really benefits? U.S. based nonunion companies in the TL sector. Instead of paying about 40¢ per mile (including benefits), Mexican-domiciled drivers will be paid about half that rate.
In the future the largest carriers will be interested in an expanded cross-border program, and that is where we need to be focused. UPS, FedEx, YRC, DHL are making long-term plans. Our Teamsters Union needs to think long run, as the industry does. We need to build ties and joint organizing programs with legitimate Mexican unions and organizations to build international solidarity.